The Biggest Heart in Baton Rouge
A mother’s love can change the world. Just ask James Joseph, a UPS driver in Baton Rouge who proudly carries on his mother’s passion.
“My mom was very outspoken in the community,” says James. “I’d call her an activist. If she saw something that needed to be fixed or made right, she didn’t wait for help…I grew up seeing that. I wanted to be like her. She was my rock. She taught me how to give.”
Thanks to her example, James has spread so much love around Louisiana in his 21 years at UPS that he was recently bestowed UPS’s highest honor for volunteerism—the Jim Casey Community Service Award, named in honor of our company’s founder.
A Familiar Face
“James Joseph is bigger than life,” says John Spain, executive vice president for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation that oversees large civic projects. “He has a constant smile, a constant laugh, a good word, an engaging personality. And you like him the minute you meet him. As an employee of UPS, he knows everybody on a first-name basis,” says John. “If I were going to write a description of what the perfect employee ambassador would be in our community, it’d be James.”
Everyone in the Baton Rouge area seems to know “Big Brown”. Standing at 6 feet, 8 inches tall, with an illustrious background in basketball, including stints with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters and pro teams in Australia, Europe and Latin America, it’s not hard to see why neighborhood kids donned him with the affectionate nickname.
As James delivers to friends and customers in neighborhoods in and around his hometown, there is more to the job than simply earning a nickname. “As I drive my package car around, I notice things that need to be changed…and I want to make a difference.”
He selflessly supports those around him, just as his mother, Lillie Joseph, did before she passed away in 2006. “We didn’t have much to offer,” James remembers, “but we’d often have 12 or 14 people at our house for supper. We shared all we had.”
Setting a Cool Example
In Pointe Coupee Parish in 2009, James happened upon a dilapidated house. There, an elderly woman suffered in the heat of the Louisiana summer. Her home was not equipped with air conditioning. The situation moved James to action, launching Beat the Heat, a program that donates fans and air conditioning units to the elderly and needy members of the community. Staying cool can be a life-and-death matter in Louisiana.
James and other UPS volunteers personally have installed hundreds of units during off-duty hours.
After that start, no heat wave or rising waters could stop James. James started a nonprofit, “Big Brown Reaching Back”, which he describes as a helping organization for anyone who needs it. The tagline of his nonprofit? “UPS drivers giving back to the community.”
In Morganza, Louisiana, James and “Big Brown Reaching Back” spearheaded renovation of an abandoned high school gymnasium, raising $180,000 to create a recreational/social center where young people keep themselves fit and out of trouble. He also teamed with the Gonzales Center to repaint Belle Rose Elementary School, adding bulletin boards, an outdoor basketball court, and playground equipment.
“I know he always is willing to help, taking time out of his life to help others,” says Belle Rose Principal Angela Gregoire. “He’s a big, kind-hearted, generous person. He’s really a godsend to us—he came into our lives at the perfect time.”
Baton Rouge UPS supervisor Jeff Hill says every good deed is a microcosm of James’s personal code.
“He’s all about seeing a need, responding without reservation or weeks of advanced planning, and making a difference,” Jeff says.
“My mom was outstanding,” James reminisces, fighting a smile. “She wore size 13 shoes, and I guarantee, I have not filled those shoes yet. As James’ list of community good deeds grows longer and longer, one thing is for sure; Lillie James has every reason to be proud.